Barium in Drinking Water
Barium is a naturally occurring element that is found in small quantities in a variety of minerals. Varying amounts of barium can be dissolved as water passes through rocks and soils and be present in groundwater. Barium may also be present in the air as a result of industrial emissions and is present in some foods.
What are the health concerns?
Barium is not considered to be an essential element for human nutrition. The principle concern for barium in drinking water is its association at high concentrations with elevated blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Based on these considerations the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, published by Health Canada recommend that barium levels in drinking water do not exceed a concentration of 1.0 mg/L.
The drinking water guideline of 1 mg/L is based on the potential health effects of long term exposure to high concentrations of barium. If an analysis of your water indicates barium concentrations above the guideline, you should re-sample the water to confirm the initial results. If results of the 2nd test still indicated barium levels exceed the guideline, you may wish to treat the water to remove barium. The health effects of barium are related to consumption only and water with barium levels exceeding the guideline is safe to use for other household purposes such as bathing, hand washing and dishwashing.
What are the treatment options?
There are a number of types of drinking water treatment devices that can remove barium from well water, and it is recommended that advice from a qualified groundwater professional be sought prior to deciding what solution best meets your particular situation. The most common water treatment devices for reducing the barium content of drinking water are ion exchange systems (water softener) reverse osmosis or distillation treatment systems.
The Department does not recommend specific brands of treatment devices; however, it is recommended that consumers purchase devises bearing a label that indicates it has been certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 44 for Cation Exchange Water Softeners, Drinking Water, NSF/ANSI Standard 58 for Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems or NSF/ANSI Standard 62 for Drinking Water Distillation Systems.
As with the use of any drinking water treatment device, the effectiveness of treatment should be verified by sampling after installation. In addition, it is important to ensure the device is used and maintained according the manufacturer’s directions and its performance periodically confirmed by sampling.